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Dream it and do it the Disney way

| Tuesday, April 28, 2015

WEB_disney_bannerSara Shoemake | The Observer

In speaking of the creative process, there is the “usual way.” Then there is the Disney way, in which limits are only fables and possibilities reach “to infinity and beyond.” The Disney theme park is guided by its creator’s foundation of imagination and innovation which established a universally recognized mantra, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Since the world first beheld Walt Disney’s biggest dream, Disneyland, on a hot, sticky California morning in 1955, the awe and potential of Walt’s world has touched nearly every corner of planet Earth, from swampy Florida to bustling Tokyo.

If you have ever been blessed to visit and play in one of the happiest places on Earth during a period of construction, one of the omnipresent quotes displayed on walled-up sections within the parks echoes Walt’s love of progress: “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” A handful of guests gripe about the blockaded areas of, say, Main Street in Magic Kingdom, but what they miss entirely is the brewing excitement of new and improved magic.

The history of renovation and changes at Disneyland and the Walt Disney Resort in particular reveal waves of experimentation in dated attractions and entertainment/hospitality elements. Beloved classics which Walt supervised himself such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Jungle Cruise” and “It’s a Small World” will most likely not be retired and renovated into completely different attractions. However, because they are among the most iconic and oldest of the experiences at both theme parks, they demand special attention and annual refurbishment to keep up with their popularity. Currently at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, “Pirates” is preparing for a serious several-month-long renovation, not for those mischievous swashbucklers, but for the boats and the ride track which navigate guests through their adventures in the Spanish Main.

It is an intriguing time to examine the future projects and undertakings of Walt Disney World Resort. The Walt Disney Company’s umbrella now covers nearly every form of entertainment and franchise in modern-day popular culture, which means the expectations for future guests’ experiences are immense. What needs improvement and renovation must correspond with what the public wants when they participate in what Walt Disney World has to offer. As one with hopes of becoming a Walt Disney Imagineer, I have researched and composed a lineup of upcoming magic and pixie dust at WDW.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

What began as an idea to rival the opening of Universal’s movie-based theme park has become an ode to show business in its heyday and, as former CEO Michael Eisner said in his dedication speech, “a Hollywood that never was — and always will be.” Hollywood Studios opened its doors to the public as Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, a name that lasted nearly 20 years before being changed for marketing purposes. Now that the Disney name has branded itself to entertainment giants Marvel and Lucasfilm, there rests the looming rumor of brand-new themed lands within the park. The “Star Wars” franchise is on the cusp of exploding to unprecedented popularity with a new, much anticipated installment set for release this winter. Hollywood Studios has already pulled off a major refurbishment with “Star Tours,” a thrilling 3-D, simulator journey through the world of “Star Wars,” featuring the characters from the original installations and recent prequels.  The next step would likely be a “Star Wars”-themed land, which would mean the end of Streets of America, “Lights, Motors, Action” (already due to close for contract purposes) and likely the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure.” The old Studio Backlot Tour has already been replaced with “For the First Time in Forever: A ‘Frozen’ Sing-Along Celebration.”

Nothing behind this speculation has been confirmed yet, but undeniable modifications around the park are in progress. “The Great Movie Ride” is finally due to receive belated restoration. The universally recognizable Mickey Sorcerer Hat, which was supposed to be a temporary installment for the park’s 10th anniversary in 1999, has just recently been dismantled. Starbucks is now sold in the Trolley Car Cafe as part of its gradual appearance in all four parks (it is currently sold in three of the four: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios). Current CEO Bob Iger recently confirmed another park name change. In the meantime, Hollywood Studios is gearing up for its annual “Star Wars Weekends,” so May the fourth be with you.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom                               

By the time I graduate college in 2017, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will unveil “Pandora: The Land of Avatar,” a themed-land intended to boost the roster of Disney’s youngest park. With the creative assistance of producers James Cameron and Jon Landau, the area will be an immersive world based upon the fictional exoplanetary moon of Pandora. According to press releases, it will include Pandora’s floating mountains and bioluminescent plants.  Mainly referred to as “Avatar Land,” the area is expected to span several acres and feature multiple rides, attractions, entertainment, audio-animatronics and 3-D holograms as well as retail, food and beverage outlets. “Avatar Land” will include elements from the original Avatar film as well as its three, yet-to-be-released sequels.

Also in the works is Animal Kingdom’s first ever night show, “Rivers of Light.” It has been described as an innovative show with live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery similar to Disney California Adventure’s “World of Color.” The show will come to life on the stage of the Discovery River between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest.

Downtown Disney

Guests need not pay admission to enter what has been called “Disney for Adults,” but they will soon have to fork over cash to eat at some of Disney’s most popular restaurants or shop the streets of merchandise shops. Downtown Disney is currently undergoing a name change to the less flashy “Disney Springs.” This marks a rebranding of the shopping and dining district as a unique destination that will treat guests to significantly more shopping, dining and entertainment amid open-air promenades with “meandering springs and waterfront charm.”

EPCOT

This is the park Walt wanted “the Florida Project” to be known for. His Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow projects his legacy of progress and innovation from Future World to World Showcase. Of WDW’s four theme parks, EPCOT is the one many would prefer to see updated, as its ideals of “future” seem to be frozen in the 1980s. Speaking of frozen, the movie “Frozen” has once again come to conquer the world, and by world I mean World Showcase, aka the Norway pavilion.  A “Frozen” attraction is set to open in place of the pavilion’s past ride, “Maelstrom.” According to press releases, Princess Anna and Queen Elsa will take guests on a new journey to Arendelle through an immersive guest experience including many popular moments and songs from the film. A royal greeting location where guests can meet Anna and Elsa is also in the works. Let it go? Not as long as little princesses want Olaf dolls. At least they’re learning about another country’s culture, right?

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